Best dog for a distracted photographer...
June 12, 2018 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any advice for a dog breed that could be used partially as a hiking companion, and partially as a security dog in the woods?

I am a nature photographer (advanced amateur/semi-pro). It is a time for me to relax and tune out all other distractions from my otherwise busy life. There are time where I get so into getting the shot right (composition, exposure, white balance, etc.) that I am oblivious to my other surroundings. I am the perfectionist who came to digital from film and still tries to do everything "in camera". I will get the ideal photograph without the need for Photoshop type editing tools.

I have taken to limiting my solo time away from roads and parks, but that limits the number and variety of locations I can use.
I tried finding other photographers to travel with in these cases, but no schedules have worked out.

Enter the dog. I would like a breed that does well hiking, ideally off leash after training, but at least one that does not pull on the leash. One that can go a few miles in and out on a trail for me to get to that desired location and can handle a rare overnight if needed. Also one that if I am working on getting that vista/waterfall/wildflower or whatever just right, will keep me safe from the animals in the area. Being in the West, I have to deal with black and grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, cougar, and the occasional angry moose. While I don't expect the dog to take them on, I would like the alert of the animals presence. A bark or growl is what I am looking for.

Because I live on a farm, a dog with a strong herding instinct will not work. Our animals are not herded by dogs.

Are there any suggestions? Personal experience?

Thank you
posted by KingJames to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
but at least one that does not pull on the leash.

This is an individual dog characteristic, not a breed characteristic. For hiking with a large dog, I'd look at a Lab or a Lab cross or just a non-brachy cross-breed. Get an adult dog from a shelter or foster and you'll know a lot more about what you're getting than you will with a puppy.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the reply. Some breeds were designed with that characteristic. Huskies, Malamutes, New Foundlands, Burmese Mountain Dogs, Chinooks, etc. were designed to pull sleds, wagons, carts and more and may pull on a lead the same way.
posted by KingJames at 2:15 PM on June 12, 2018

Ok so you are looking for a dog that: can handle several miles of hiking, won’t pull on the leash, won’t wander away in the woods, will bark at predators and aren’t herders? Really tons of dogs will fit your needs, and I think the pulling at the leash thing is less of a breed characteristic and more of a training thing.

For what it’s worth our late Australian Shepherd ticked all of your boxes, was really phenomenal at hiking and walking on a leash, and his herding instinct wasn’t a problem with our sheep/goats because he wasn’t allowed in their pasture.

I have Rhodesian Ridgebacks right now that would also tick your boxes but they are QUITE stubborn (harder to train).
posted by pintapicasso at 2:23 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’m wondering wether you are right about the herding instinct. My dog is a mix og sheepdogs, and yes he is sometimes irritating around horses and cattle (bur great with sheep), but he is an amazing hiking companion, because he never roams, never hunts and is strongly protective. He loves training. My childhood German Shephard was the same. At the end of the day, its all about the individual dog, but dont rule out shepherds. And excuse my spelling, Im on an aging ipad.
posted by mumimor at 2:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

You know, actually I don’t think a Rhodesian would wait around for twenty minutes for you to take a photo as they tend to wander. So they might be out!
posted by pintapicasso at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2018

Some breeds were designed with that characteristic.

In absolutely no way is this a guarantee an individual dog will have that characteristic. Beagles are bred for their high prey drive and yet millions of them live with cats and chase nothing. Boxers are typically high energy dogs with a significant exercise requirement to stave off destruction; tell that to my couch potato. Her step-sister the Dogue de Bordeaux is conversely the poster child for her giant mastiff breed (except that she's terrified of the hose!)

Dogs are individuals.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

As for the safety aspect, there are many articles that say just the opposite about taking any dog on a hike with you. They will attract animals and bring them to you, rather than keep them away. These articles give you both pros and cons. Backpacker. Petsecure
posted by itsflyable at 2:33 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the great replies so far. I used to have a German Shepherd+Collie cross that was a wonderful companion dog. I wasn't trying to make too much on the pulling on a lead thing above. I just didn't want pulling while I am trying to take a photo, or a lead that pulls a tripod leg out causing a fall.
I do understand about characteristics of individual dogs. Just like people, they are all unique.
posted by KingJames at 2:47 PM on June 12, 2018

Taking a dog hiking/backpacking can be such a mixed bag, as pointed out by the Backpacker column linked above. A dog may or may not alert you to the presence of wild animals, and may or may not deter them. But there's nothing better than having a canine camping buddy!

I really think you're looking more for a particular personality than breed. Yes, labs and lab mixes make good hiking companions; breeds created for outdoor sport are a good bet. When I lived in Montana, my favorite hiking buddies (besides my own pit bull mixes) were cattle dogs and their kin. They're rampant in the west--cattle dogs, shepherds, etc. are always available for adoption--and make great companions. They're smart, motivated, super-trainable, and the whole "herding" thing really depends on the dog. They stick to their people, making them excellent off-leash hikers once they're bonded and trained.

I'd encourage you to go to your local animal shelter and visit with some young adult dogs. "Young" because you want a physically able dog with many years of hiking ahead of it; "adult" because you'll be able to see their true personalities, and hether or not they have herding instincts and other behaviors/habits you do or don't want. Don't over look the BBDs (basic brown dogs). A medium-sized mutt you can pick up in an emergency sounds like a good choice!

Even pull-happy breeds can be trained to behave on-leash. And there are backpacks for dogs that let them carry their own food/supplies on hikes, and as a bonus, help keep their pulling/wandering in check. Basically: there's no one perfect breed for what you seek. I'd recommend adopting an adult dog and taking a basic obedience classes, plus lots of shorter training hikes before attempting a longer excursion.
posted by adastra at 2:57 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Interestingly, my bichon/cocker spaniel mix checks all your boxes (including handling miles of hiking easily, which surprises some people). And I don't think those were breeds you were imagining, nor do I think that those qualities in him are particularly a breed thing (except that the companion dog in him seems to display as a velcro dog, which means he does not want to wander at all, and also makes him protective enough to readily bark at potential threats - so perhaps companion dogs are a good place to start).

Nthing that you're looking for a specific dog personality, not necessarily a specific breed.
posted by mosst at 3:02 PM on June 12, 2018

You sound like you are bright enough to know this, but huskies and Malamutes are not your choice. They aren't great guard dogs, they can be a pain to walk on leash in the woods for an extended time and are untrustworthy off leash. They are stubborn about returning, the only way they will alert you to a dangerous animal is by watching it and then running after it, maybe for miles. We say walk in the woods, they view that as a hunt.

So says the guy with 30 years of hiking with huskies and Malamutes in Montana and who spent 5 minutes on my lunch hour going in circles around a tree trying to collar my Siberian, "Because, dammit, Human, there is a squirrel up there and if I wait long enough it will come with reach!!"
posted by ITravelMontana at 3:04 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Anything but a husky/malamute or a hound would be a safe start.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:06 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd say go to shelters and rescues for breeds you like the look of, and look for a "clingy" dog. And take the time to bond with it. My Carolina dog is a great trail buddy but its because she's devoted to me; she'd be useless to anyone else.
posted by The otter lady at 3:22 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

German Shepherd. You want a breed that attaches to a human and will prefer to stay near the human even with the incredible 'reward' of the great outdoors nearby, and one that isn't bred with high prey drive (ruling out many terrier breeds). My chihuahua mix can sit for ten minutes while I take photos of woodpeckers and hike ten kilometers a day, but you sound like you're looking for a more stereotypically active breed.

That being said, consider the amount of damage done by off-leash dogs in wildlife areas. Our national parks have to designate certain areas as no dogs allowed period, because just the presence of the dog is disruptive to wildlife - leash or no leash. Off-leash is much worse. This is not even to mention the risk of injury or death to the dog from wildlife.

Since you are a wildlife photographer and presumably care about the natural world, keep your dog on leash.
posted by Nyx at 3:22 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah- I think there are a whole bunch of dog breeds that would be mostly great for this, but that individual dogs vary so much it’s hard to say. My brother-in-law’s German shepherd, who herded only small children, or my friend’s old black lab, or a bunch of friends’ doodle-y mixes would have been perfect for you. My current dog would be the pits because, while he is an awesome hiking dog and great *when we are moving* off-leash, he knows when we stop to take a picture or chat with fellow hikers and disappears for a while to explore on his own because he only cares about us so much. So I think you should definitely select for “cares about its people a lot,” and look for a young adult shelter dog that you select carefully (and maybe even foster, if that’s an option).

Your wildlife requirement especially is a crapshoot; that’s something that is hard to train for because the stimulus is unpredictable. My dog is awesome about moose, because they’re common enough here that we have been able to train him to sit far away and look and leave it. He did not transfer that skill to bears, which we run into just 1-2 times a summer, as quickly as we would have liked. Many friends’ dogs who are otherwise great dogs are definitely barkers/escalators/chasers with all wildlife, and that may just have to be a thing you are prepared for.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:29 PM on June 12, 2018

Honestly I would not get a dog as an animal deterrent. They're just as likely to lick a porcupine as they are to bark at a bear. Dogs can be great hiking companions but I would never count on them being actually useful for anything. A dog that's trained well enough for you to be able to responsibly take it out on a recreational hiking trail is going to cue off of you, its human, because that's what you will need to train it to do. A dog that decides to take the initiative in a recreational hiking situation is nothing but a liability. You want your dog to be chill and relaxed and not do anything without some kind of signal from you, or else you'll be That Guy with the obnoxious dog on the trail. Don't be That Guy.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:51 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone who suggests that you not bring a dog on the trail with you. But if you must, consider a Giant Schnauzer or a Dobermann.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:20 PM on June 12, 2018

I would like a breed that does well hiking, ideally off leash after training

The overwhelming majority of parks in the US require that dogs be on leash. Please do not disregard that or take it lightly. Even though a trail may not be packed, it is not a respectful thing to do for other humans you may encounter. Don't be the person that makes people stay away from enjoying a hike because you think you know better than to obey the law. Even if the dog is well trained, it isn't fair for other people who have anxiety around dogs - especially off leash dogs.
posted by raztaj at 4:57 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the information. I understand about leashing the dog... If I am in the boonies, frequently I am off trail. I can take the trail from point A to B. I could also follow a creek, or a saddle, or perhaps a ridgeline to get from A to B. For me, the beauty and the photographs appear on the second option. Plus, my DSLR is weather resistant and has satellite GPS and a compass. I can always find my way to the same location for another shot in another season if needed.

I was thinking of the dog as a companion and an alert system. Not as a deterrent or protector. If the dog alerts me to a bear (for example) in the area, I will not be startled when lifting my eyes from my camera. Also when walking with the dog, I talk to them. With both of us making noises, we will likely alert them to our presence. If I am solo, I am quiet. The only noises come from my steps and the noise makers on my bag.
posted by KingJames at 5:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

A Golden retriever or Poodle. Smart, highly trainable, protective of their pack (you) and nice dogs to hang out with.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 PM on June 12, 2018

Because it’s inevitable someone will bring them up, under no circumstances should you get a greyhound. They can never be let off lead outside an enclosed area, they don’t have that kind of stamina and they are terrible watchdogs.
posted by winna at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

My mother had a Catahoula Dog that was exactly what you are asking for. I have no other experience with the breed so cant say if that behavior is typical of a Catahoula. I do not reccomend Great Pyrenees because they are independent thinkers and may well decide the best idea when faced with any wildlife is to chase and conquer it (whatever conquer something means in their minds...).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:19 PM on June 12, 2018

My family has a dog that is half Catahoula, half Great Pyrenees and he is a great dog but not good on the trail. He's stubborn and independent and wants to bark at and/or investigate just about any person or animal he meets. Taking him out for walks requires that about 80-90% of one's attention be directed toward controlling him. I've tried combining photography with walking this dog, but all I can photograph is the dog himself because I need
to be keeping my attention focused on him at all times. A lovely dog who absolutely adores his family and is great around the house, but not a good trail dog.

And that's kind of the thing. You can't just ignore a dog when you're hiking with them, the way you need to do if you're trying to do photography. I do hiking combined with landscape/nature photography myself, and it can be really absorbing to the point where if I have human companions who aren't also photographers, they get impatient with me because I'm going too slow. Either that, or I need to severely curtail the amount of photography that I do in order to maintain a reasonable hiking pace. A dog is going to be like that but moreso, because even a great hiking dog just cannot look after itself, not totally—part of your attention needs to be on the dog to make sure that it's OK and isn't about to do something foolish, obnoxious, or dangerous. You have to be in "group leader" mode at all times, with half an eye on the dog. You can't just leave it to its own devices while you get tunnel vision trying to get your camera settings and your shooting angle dialed in just right. You have to be looking out for the dog.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:57 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chiming in with another anti-hound recommendation. I love my coonhound to bits and he's a great hiking companion because he'll go all day without getting tired and loves being outside but off-leash is a big no. He wants to smell everything and as soon as he smelled something good he'd be off on an adventure and I'd see him in a few days or possibly never.
posted by fancypants at 4:30 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Adopt an adult mutt. If you get an adult you'll know the personality and can pick one that you click with. Puppies can be a gamble and it takes a really long time training. I've been training mine for over a year and a half to not pull on the leash (he's a husky puppy, so yeah those are some stubborn dogs!). If I were you I'd go for a Pitt mix. Loyal, althletic, trainable and able to also be a couch potato.

As for the protection aspect, when I hike w dog I am far more worried about him being an idiot and provoking an animal, than an animal picking a fight with me. Dogs become the love of your life and you find yourself wanting to protect them, not the other way around.

Last note- while you are training I found using a leash attached to my waist while hiking lets me be hands free. Way better than holding a leash for miles and miles.
posted by KMoney at 5:16 AM on June 13, 2018

I would want a gsd if I were you. The gsd-collie mix actually sounds even better but I’m a collie-sheltie person so that’s why I’d prefer that mix. If I had to select a single breed it would 110% be a german shepard. It’s easily trained, can handle long hikes on hard trails/no trails, would alert you to dangerous mammals and fight to the death to protect you.

However, if dangerous mammals are a concern, I’d also be thinking of legally arming myself w/a gun or bear pepper spray or some weapon I’m comfortable with, and always have it at hand because I really don’t want my loyal dog to die protecting me because I went somewhere remote and got myself in trouble.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My ex had a GSD-Pit mix that ticks of all your boxes. We'd go on long (7-8 hour hikes) with her charging in front of us all the way. If we camped, she'd be happy to sit nearby and let us set up. She was also fiercely loyal and protective of us (that was her GSD personality, but around other animals was also fine unless the animal came too close to one of us.) She rarely wandered away from us - the couple times she did was to investigate sounds and I think she was being protective.

From what I can tell, the GSD-Pit mix personalities can go either way, so perhaps adopting an adult whose personality veers more GSD would work best for you.
posted by Everydayville at 12:04 PM on June 13, 2018

I just went out for a little evening walk with my dog - he is a German Shepard / Border Collie mix, and was reminded of something else: While he will bark at foxes and badgers, deer are for some reason in his sheep-category of animals, to be protected from the scary beasts, NOT harmed. We have wolves but no bears, and I have never seen a wolf. Cant say if its because he has scared them away, though.
My best good dog was my first dog, a German Shepard, I could take him everywhere off leash, including long treks on horseback. He never ever strayed from my heal, and even the park people recognized it, and let us go as we wanted. But Ive mentioned before here on the green that it was probably because I trained him patiently and consistently all the time. I havnet been nearly as deligent with this boy, so he is never off leash if I think he may scare people or animals.
posted by mumimor at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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